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What Do We Know About the New SAT?

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This article was co-authored by Educational Director Alice Rothman-Hicks

There is a perception among anxious college-bound families and industry professionals that we don't yet know much about the redesigned 2016 version of the SAT. This notion persists because the College Board has chosen to release information in a less than straightforward manner, burying hard fact within vague jargon about measures of "college readiness." Alongside the generalities and careful, politically correct language, though, exists a behemoth document entitled, "Specifications for the Redesigned SAT." Undoubtedly all of the details therein will become clearer when we have access to a full practice test in March 2015, but in the meanwhile -- in case reading the College Board's specifications is not your idea of summer fun -- I thought I should extract the key points:

• The new SAT will be 3 hours long and will consist of the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test (which contains the Reading test and the Writing and Language Test) and the Math Test. The Essay (now optional) will extend the length to 3 hours and 50 minutes if students elect to take it.

• The test will be scored on a 400-1600 scale. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test will be scored from 200-800, as will the Math Test. As of yet, it is unknown exactly how a student's Reading and Writing/Language scores will be weighted when determining his/her Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score.

• Scoring will be based on right answers only -there will be no additional points taken off for incorrect answers.

• The Reading Test will be 65 minutes long and will consist of 4 single passages and 1 set of paired passages, and 52 multiple-choice passage-based questions.

• Questions will ask about such concepts as explicit and implicit ideas/themes/meanings, interpreting words/phrases in context, word choice, and the author's reasoning/use of evidence.

• Vocabulary will no longer be tested directly and in limited context (as on the current SAT's sentence completions); instead, vocabulary-based questions will focus on identifying a word's meaning based on its context in the passage.

• Command of evidence will be tested in question pairs where the first question asks the student to demonstrate comprehension of the passage and the second one asks the student to choose which piece of the text provides evidence for the previous answer.

• The Writing and Language Test will be 35 minutes long and will contain 4 passages and 44 questions (11 per passage).

• 24 questions will be "expression of ideas" questions, which will focus on revisions of the passage in relation to its main idea and purpose, clarity and focus, transitions, logical sequence of ideas, word choice, and style/tone.

• 20 will be "standard English conventions" questions, which will ask students to fix run-ons, fragments, non-parallel structure, pronoun errors, agreement errors, punctuation usage, etc.

• It is not completely clear, but it seems that the questions themselves will be incorporated into the passage along the way, creating a format that is very similar to that of the current ACT English section.

• Both the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test will include graphics: a student might have to choose the right graph to illustrate a fact/trend/idea in the passage or "edit" the passage so as to make it match what a graph/chart is saying. The exact incorporation of graphics is not fully clear as of yet.

• The passages on the Reading and Writing/Language Tests will cover a specified range of subject matter and genres, as well as a specified range of text complexity.

• The Math Test will consist of two sections: one section (55 minutes, 37 questions) with a calculator allowed and one section (25 minutes, 20 questions) with no calculator allowed.

• There will be 45 multiple-choice questions and 11 grid-ins, all worth 1 point each. There will also be 1 extended thinking grid-in question which is worth 4 points.

• Questions will focus on graphing, modeling, and solving various types of algebraic equations, inequalities, and polynomials; using rates, ratios, proportions, percentages, and unit conversions; and analyzing data.

• Questions will focus on application of concepts to real-world scenarios. There will be some sets of multiple questions about a given scenario.

• There will be much less emphasis on geometry than on the current SAT: 6 questions overall will focus on "Additional topics in Math," which could include volume, right triangles, trigonometry, complex numbers, arc length and sector area, etc.

• The Essay will be an optional 50-minute section at the end of the test and will be scored on a scale from 6-24. The prompt will be published beforehand and will always be the same, and the student will need to analyze a 650-700 word passage in response to that prompt.